LANSING (AP) — The launch of Attorney General Bill Schuette’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign may not be imminent, but the Republican clearly is preparing to run as he enters the final two years of a tenure that most recently has been dominated by his criminal investigation of Flint’s water crisis.
Asked if he would run for governor, Schuette told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he intends to be “part of the conversation” about Michigan’s next generation of leadership.
He focused on two “big” issues — the economy and education — and accused Democrats of wanting “to go back to the days of (former Gov.) Jennifer Granholm,” who served from 2002 through 2010 when the auto industry’s home state was hit hard by a long-running recession.
“The people in Michigan, they want jobs and paychecks,” said Schuette, a 63-year-old former congressman, state senator and appellate judge from Midland. “We don’t want to go back to the heaviness of the behaviors of Obamacare and the failures of the Granholm administration.”
Without detailing specifics, he called for a review of state taxes. Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP lawmakers have enacted a series of business tax cuts while scaling back tax exemptions and credits for pensioners, low-income earners and taxpayers with children.
“If you look across the country, where most jobs are being built are where you can keep more of what you earn and the government takes less of what you make. I think that’s an important ingredient as to how (in) Michigan we need go to higher,” Schuette said.
He acknowledged the difficulty of winning the governorship given the cyclical nature of politics and voters’ desire for “change.”
Republicans’ control of the White House and Congress could be a bonus in 2018 for Democrats, who will have been out of power at the state level for eight years. The last time a gubernatorial candidate won Michigan and was from the same party as the president was 1990, when John Engler narrowly defeated two-term Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard. Snyder cannot run again due to term limits.
“To get a third Republican term is not easy,” Schuette said. “It will be very difficult. But it needs to be about big ideas, bold ideas and it can’t be small. It has to be, ‘How do you launch Michigan for another decade of growth in terms of jobs and paychecks and opportunity?’ That needs to be the discussion.”
He said he was “really encouraged” by what Snyder, the GOP-led Legislature and other top Republicans have accomplished, but more must be done to keep people from leaving the state, to attract new residents and to grow the economy.
Schuette said education “is in many respects on a delivery system from the 1900s.” He lauded President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Michigan school-choice advocate and major GOP donor Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary. Democrats and unions say DeVos has undermined traditional public education by backing a failed voucher initiative and supporting the expansion of public funded charter schools.
Michigan has fared poorly compared to other states both on students’ test scores and their academic improvement in the last decade.
“We need to give more students more opportunity, more choices, more options on how their parents want to provide them their educational launching pad,” Schuette said.
He characterized 2016 as “full,” citing the Flint probe and his work tied to processing untested rape-evidence kits, fighting human trafficking, addressing oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac and stopping the recount of Michigan’s presidential vote.
His ongoing, nearly yearlong investigation of how Flint’s tap water became contaminated with toxic lead has led to charges against 13 current or former government officials, most recently two emergency managers that Snyder appointed to run the impoverished city and two Flint officials. The investigation is not over, though Schuette said “we’re far closer to the end than the beginning.”
He has faced criticism both that higher-ranking members of Snyder’s administration have not been charged or that those charged — and others who may be — never knowingly intended to endanger the public’s health.
Lead from old pipes leached into the water supply for up to 18 months because corrosion-reducing phosphates were not added when the source was switched from a Detroit-area water system to the Flint River in 2014. The improperly treated river water also has been linked to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
“People made serious mistakes,” Schuette said. “I think there are probably some out there who’d just as soon this would go away. … That’s not right. I’m not going to ignore the 11 people that died. I’m not going to ignore the fact that children were poisoned. And I’m not going to brush aside the fact that there’s people in Flint who’ve drinking bottled water for two years.”
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